Ask the Expert : V2 Issue 3

1. Our company is facing revenue, market, and cost pressures. Our stock price is down. There is a freeze on hiring and on raises. Motivation has never been a problem with my team members. But off late because of these developments, most of my team members are demotivated. How do I motivate my team in tough times like these?


It is natural for employees to feel low in the given circumstances. But over a period of time with the following steps you can improve and maintain the morale of your team.

  • Be transparent with company news: Be honest. Don’t hold back or play down information even if it is about the negative impact of the events on the company. Let them know what is happening and also what measures are being taken to counter each challenge.

  • Discuss and address fears and concerns: Your team members may be worried about job security, their compensation, and their ability to deliver in tough conditions. People typically need to talk more in such times. Be empathetic. Try and help them. For instance give extra support to the employees that are struggling to meet their job commitments or reassure them that their jobs are secure.

  • Highlight what is working: Has sales gone down, but company has bagged a couple of long term contracts? If so there is still cause to celebrate instead of just brooding. Veer discussions to the exciting possibilities that a downturn can bring in for your company and team, not just the gloom.

  • Give them something else to think about: Inspiring goals can energise and motivate people and help them get out of their depression. Help each of your team members set goals that they find inspiring. It could even be a personal goal like upgrading his/her skill set.

  • Help team remain focused on your team goals: It is easy to get distracted by what is happening and lose focus on the goals. Encourage and appreciate even the small achievements and short term goals met. And definitely reward those who meet their long term goals.

  • Thank them for their extra effort: In times like this every extra bit done to deliver results is helpful. Ensure you notice efforts like these and let each of your team members know how much you value their contribution.

In addition to the above, if you discharge your responsibilities of a leader calmly and confidently you are sure to regain the motivation of your team members.


2. I manage a small business unit. I am doing all I can to become lean and survive the economic slowdown. Unfortunately as one of cost cutting measures, I will have to layoff some of my staff. How can I do it as sensitively as possible?


Your objective during a layoff should be to treat the employees being laid off respectfully and minimize demoralization of your remaining staff.


Firstly be clear as to the business reasons for the need for a layoff. Then determine objective criteria like seniority, critical skills etc for selecting the people to be laid off. Having done this, prepare the relevant termination information like notification letter, salary continuation/termination date, benefits, outplacement, etc. It is also important to prepare yourself emotionally to handle the reactions of the employee. Now you are ready to have a meeting 


You should thank the employee for his or her contributions and explain how the layoff decision is economic rather than personal. Explain the criteria used for determining the people to be laid off. Allow the employee to respond. Listen patiently to what he he/she has to say but avoid getting into a debate or argument. Then explain the termination process. Some do's and don’ts….

  • Prepare a script for the key message so that you are clear as to what you are going to say.
  • Ensure there is consistency of message across all employees being laid off.
  • Keep the meeting as brief as possible.
  • Do not mix performance review with termination discussion.
  • Do not engage in small talk, use humor etc in an attempt to lighten up things.
  • Avoid discussing other employees

After meeting all the employees being laid off, immediately hold a meeting of all other employees to ward off rumors. In the meeting assure all of them that their jobs are secure and explain to them the rationale for the layoff and criteria used for the same. Let their managers once again reassure them about the security of their jobs in a one on one meeting.


3. I take care of HR for my company. I am very happy to see my leadership team trying to proactively do all it can to cope with the expected pressures of the economic slowdown. As the HR representative, I would like also to help. Typically what are the ways in which HR can contribute in such a scenario?


As always HR has to play an important role in ensuring business success by deploying appropriate people practices and processes.

Some steps which typically HR has taken, in companies that have come out of economic slowdowns as winners, are listed below.

  • Align with leadership team: Providing a proactive HR service in a downturn will become easy if you can work closely with the CEO and the leadership team. You will then be able to understand what is crucial to the business success. This in turn will help you align HR priorities to the organization priorities and develop robust plans.

  • Optimize Resources: These times can provide opportunities to hire some great talent otherwise not available to you easily. They may be available at a reasonable cost. Also transition or re-deploy non critical resources.

  • Communicate: Keep communication with employees flowing, about the true financial picture, about their jobs, about everything that can affect them through appropriate channels of communication.    You would be surprised at how often employees are willing to make changes even negative ones like a pay cut, when they understand the facts and are not worried based on rumours flying around the workplace.

  • Take care of your top talent: When you are busy fire fighting and stop paying attention to your top talent, they can become targets of poaching by other companies. It is critical you retain them not only for managing current business, but also for managing future business when things pick up. Keep them engaged by involving them in the initiatives taken to manage the impact of downturn.

  • Continue development efforts: Companies that continue their training efforts gain in the long term. It need not be expensive external training. It can be in the form of books, online training, mentoring, cross functional exposure etc.

  • Relook at your performance management: You may want to add some new dimensions to your performance parameters. In addition to the kind of results you would reward in a thriving economy reward the ones which help in tiding over challenges in a slow economy.

  • Preserve the core culture and values of the company: As the custodian of company culture and values, take steps to retain them. For instance don’t discourage ‘Research and Development’ efforts if company believes in leading the market through innovation.


These are challenging and hence also exciting times for HR professionals. If you truly want to add value to your company, I am sure you will rise to the occasion and find a way. All the best!